Village Suya: Sizzling Nigerian Cuisine
By Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede
On a gloomy Tuesday afternoon after it had rained, the air smelled of wet soil and the weather was just right. I was sitting outside the UofT Mississauga library trying to get some work done – because I work better when the sun is down – but I could not help myself but think about eating Suya. The cool breeze reminded me of back home in Nigeria when I would enjoy taking long walks in the evening to go and buy suya from our local mallam while enjoying the chilly feeling of the evening breeze.
Suya is a traditional Nigerian spicy cow beef kebab which is sliced horizontally into small delicate pieces, put on a stick, and decorated with scotch bonnet, onion, green pepper and a sprinkle of dried pepper mixed with kuli kuli. The mallams who made the suya did not make it in actual grilling equipment because the majority of them could not afford to buy a grill. Instead, they used a charcoal pot, a cooking grid which to place under the beef to cook it. After flipping the meat couple of times on the cooking grid to make sure it was cooked, they would then remove the meat from the stick and put it in an old newspaper, cut some onion, and sprinkle the dried pepper mixed with kuli kuli. They would then wrap it up and serve it to the customer.
Remembering my time back home, I thought about how every time the beef was placed on the cooking grid while I was waiting in line to order, the sizzling sound of the oil made me even hungrier. In these moments, I cared very little about burning my tongue because I could not wait to wait to eat the suya. The flavor from the kuli kuli pepper and onion and the lingering smell of old newspaper made it taste so extraordinary. The oily yet juiciness of the beef coupled with the crunchy onion and kuli kuli spicy pepper created such strong feels of fireworks in my brain that I would start to tear up immediately.
Back home, suya was usually sold on the roadside by Fulani and Hausa mallams who act as traders in the day and turn to suya chefs by night. They only sold it closer to the evenings when the sun was down because more people would have been done from work and would be on their way home. People sitting in the stand-still Lagos traffic with their windows could smell the burnt charcoal and hot oil that filled the air when they started preparing for the night’s grill. The food was made right in front of you and the mallam always allowed you to taste the meat after frying it, before cutting it up into smaller bits for you.
Moments after reminiscing about suya, I decided to visit a Nigerian restaurant called Village Suya that newly opened six months ago around the square one area in Mississauga. The restaurant is located on Rathburn Road, a residential area in Mississauga which is predominantly filled with a mixture of White, Asian and Black individuals. According to the owner (Obinna) the name “Village Suya” is meant to attract mostly Nigerians who are familiar with what suya is and have not had it since they left Nigeria for Canada.
Obinna aims to give African customers (especially Nigerians) a taste of home in a foreign country. Reflecting his own Nigerian heritage, he serves common Nigerian dishes such as beef suya, chicken suya (for people who do want beef), jollof rice, fried rice, stew, plantain, and pepper soup. Though he offers these authentic Nigerian cuisines, what caught my attention was that he also sold mac n’ cheese, fries and suya in a bun. In respect to these dishes, he stated that although Nigerians are the main customers he caters to, he similarly caters to a vast multicultural clientele in which he attends to on a daily basis. According to Obinna “we’re not in Nigeria so we have to merge with the clients’ needs.”
Essentially, he still wants to make it a little bit western by including easy to make western meals that anyone and everyone can eat while still serving traditional Nigerian cuisines. I ordered the beef suya with a side of Jollof rice and plantain. When I tasted the beef suya, it was different from what I was used to eating back in Nigeria in the sense that the beef used was not cow beef but regular beef and there was no kuli kuli aroma to enhanced the flavor. However, the Jollof rice and Plantain made up for it because the jollof tasted more like an African dish while the suya was a fusion of cosmopolitan and Nigerian dish.
When I asked him about the flow of business and if he was making the kind of profit he had hoped for, he indicated that it was a “hit or miss” on some days. He hoped that as time went on the business would pick up. He further stated that he was not planning to expand into a restaurant because he was still learning the ropes and understanding the clients’ food preferences from their orders. He also works with Ubereats, and finds that most of the food orders are done online instead of people actually coming into the restaurant.
The interior design of the restaurant was simple; there were no paintings or decorations that indicated it was an African Restaurant. Perhaps because most of their orders are placed online, there were only a few chairs to sit and wait for your meal. There were also no servers and the chef acted as the cashier as well. The restaurant was more like a canteen restaurant were people just go to eat lunch, spend a maximum of one hour there, and leave. The ambience did not really remind me of back home because there was nothing there that reminded me of home aside from the food.
Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede studies Criminology and Sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She is part of the Peel Poverty Action Group in Mississauga and she enjoys learning about different ethnic cultures.